Stephen Garrett says now is the time to change how people view death.

Shining a light on the dark topic of death

Two speakers at the Closing the Circle Conference on Oct. 25 want to shed some light on one of life’s certainties: Death.

The loss of a friend or loved one is never easy, but two speakers at the Closing the Circle Conference on Oct. 25 want to shed some light on one of life’s certainties: Death.

It is a subject that one keynote speaker, Mary Gavan, is no stranger to. Through her presentation, entitled Dying to Tell, Gavan provides insight into the process through her time as a hospice volunteer with her grandmother and, later, as a palliative care nurse in Scotland.

“In my town, some 20 miles outside of Edinburgh, sitting with the sick was a common undertaking. Something about the stillness and serenity of sitting with the sick appealed to my soul and I went willingly with my granny to be with the other men and women. I enjoyed their camaraderie and matter of fact approach to life as well as their understanding of care,” she said.

“Such is the bliss of palliative care that I remain besotted with it, a lifetime later. What I learnt was the only thing that matters is your own sincerity as a human being to another … our humanity is what we have in common and what is needed most.”

For Stephen Garrett, another keynote speaker at the conference, the key to dealing with death is simply to change how society, and human-kind, perceive it.

“This Grim Reaper notion, which is fictitious and mythical, isn’t working for anyone. My goal is to help people disrobe the Grim Reaper and maybe approach death from a different perspective … perhaps our image of death could be something a little less ominous and something a little more graceful,” said the former teacher and a personal growth speaker with more than 15 years of experience.

“If we changed our view of death and could sit down and have open, compassionate talks about death it may not be that way … they would have a different relationship with death and they would be inspired to sit down with their family members and do their own end-of-life planning. Even though you may be 40 or 50 or 60, let’s get it done, let’s get it put in a binder and have it ready to go so the doctors and the family can work together on a graceful path.”

The conference is being hosted by the Prince Rupert and District Hospice Society, who give of their time to be with the sick and dying through their ordeal. It’s a position that may not appeal to many, but one that both Gavan and Garrett say is critical to the patient.

“My presentation pays tribute to hospice volunteers who are sharing their humanity. All praise to them and their generous spirits. My stories show why I regard their contribution as unique and as essential,” said Gavan.

“Those people are angels. They are the ones that sit with the families that are grieving and struggling, the ones who sit with the ones who are dying and they keep them company in the hospitals and the seniors homes or their own homes. They do a Herculean job just being with people and giving them company and a hand to hold and an ear to listen at times when a lot of people may be running for cover … most people don’t want to sit with the dying, but hospice volunteers do and they are a blessing for someone who is all alone in a hospital,” Garrett said.

The Closing the Circle Conference will take place at Northwest Community College on Saturday, Oct. 25 from 9 a.m. To 3:30 p.m. For more information or to register, call 250-622-6204 or email

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